Cleaner and cashier receive Flemish Community Honours


The list of recipients of the prestigious award recognising outstanding contributions to Flanders was more diverse this year, as the region celebrated Flemish Community Day

Coronavirus ‘is no match’ for us

Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon was in attendance at the Flemish Community Day reception in Brussels’ City Hall on Saturday, where he awarded the annual Flemish Community Honours. Every year the region chooses several laureates for their outstanding contributions.

While laureates are usually accomplished scientists, famous musicians or business leaders, this year the government chose an emergency room cleaning person and a grocery store clerk for the prestigious awards. Martine Vaneyck cleans at the Sint-Trudo Hospital in Limburg, one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus, while Ann Maes works the cash register at a supermarket in Waregem (which supermarket has not been revealed).

Vaneyck wiped away a tear after accepting the award. “This touches me very much,” Vaneyck told VRT. “It has been an extremely tough period. But thanks to my colleagues, we all got through it. Everyone in the hospital deserves this recognition.”

Other laureates of the Flemish Community Honours this year were choreographer and author Ish Ait Hamou – particularly for his book Het moois dat we delen (The Beauty that We Share) – and psychologist Ingrid De Jonghe, founder of TeJo, an organisation offering free therapy to young people.

How do we manage to involve and engage as many people as possible in this story?

- Minister-president Jan Jambon

Also on Saturday, Jambon delivered the traditional 11 July speech on Groeninge Park in Kortrijk, home to the Groeninge statue. The monument is dedicated to the Battle of the Golden Spurs on which 11 July, Flemish Community Day, is based.

Every year, the minister-president of Flanders gives a speech to celebrate Flemish Community Day, and celebrations are held around the region. The day is dedicated to Flemish people’s pride in their language, culture and revolutionary history.

“It is important that this story – our story – continues to be told,” said Jambon in starting off the speech. “We have every reason to be proud of these glorious moments, but at the same time not ignore those of which we are less proud. ‘Flandrien’ is not just a name; it represents who we are.”

Jambon (pictured) laid flowers at the foot of the Groeninge monument “for the major movers and shakers as well as the less famous Flemings, to the supporters of the republic as well as the more moderate citizens”. He acknowledged that while not all residents of Flanders might hold the same politics, “we all remain grateful for their passionate commitment that ensures that we are a Flemish nation today”.

For the first time since the 1970s, 11 July celebrations had to be limited due to the corona crisis. “With crises come opportunities,” he said. “The coronavirus has been no match for our assets.”

He went on to talk about Flanders’ economic strengths, its ports and its world-class sectors such as nanoelectronics and biotechnology. “I appeal to all Flemish people to stand shoulder to shoulder. Not only to get our economy back in shape but to help shape our social fabric and our Flemish nation.”

To that end, he pointed to shared stories that bind communities. “This holiday offers us the chance to consider how we can strengthen that sense of community. What can we do to improve our bond with our Flemish community? How do we manage to involve and engage as many people as possible in this story? ‘Coexist’ is a verb, it take effort, with respect for each other and with mutual rights and obligations. This applies to all Flemish people, young or old, and of any background.”

Photos, from top: Minister-president Jan Jambon awards Flemish Community Honours to cashier Ann Maes ©Jan Jambon/Twitter, Jambon delivers the traditional 11 July speech ©Kurt Desplenter/BELGA